Kolb’s Learning Cycle divides the process of reflection into four stages. These stages are going through an experience, reflecting on the experience, developing generalizations and abstractions from the experience, and testing the conclusions in new experiences . This paper presents the output of a reflective exercise based on the experience of Karin Chung.
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Chung is in the middle of a software implantation project that started well but later ran into problems. The reflective exercise presented in this paper looks at Chung’s experience from the context of project management. In fact, the goal of the paper is to use reflection to determine the best action Chung should take to correct the existing situation.
Chung is in charge of the software installation project in her division. The inception of the project was very commendable. All the divisions in the company gave their input regarding their needs and expectations. They also helped to identify potential problems that the new system could experience.
All the divisions also received training relating to how to use the new software after installation. In addition, to these internal efforts, Chung ensured that all the contractors participated in the development of the work breakdown structure for the project. The highlight of the preparation phase was a partnering seminar designed to stress the need for good communication during the project. All the participants signed a partnering charter as an expression of their commitment to the project.
After two months, three incidents raised Chung’s concerns relating to the progress of the project. However, she did not take action because she felt they were comparable to problems in smaller software projects that she had handled in the past. The first issue was the concern raised by a task force member regarding the incompatibility of the software with the accounting systems of the Virginia division.
The second problem was the view of the consulting contractor that one of the contractors never kept time, and failed to test software before deployment. The third concern was that tests were showing that the software implemented would never be compatible with the division in Georgia.
The project degenerated to a complete crisis during the fourth month of operations. The spirit of optimism and commitment to teamwork displayed during the partnering seminar was all gone. The project was behind schedule by two months, and one contractor has said to Chung in a letter that he would not be liable for delays caused by another contractor. At this point, Chung called a meeting involving all the contractors. The meeting flared up because of the divergent views regarding the causes of the current problems.
The concrete experiences regarding project management that emerge from this situation are as follows. There was a clear attempt to plan the project and to ensure it starts well. As the project took off, differences emerged between different stakeholders in the project. These differences precipitated the current crisis. These differences partly arose because of the technical problems that came up during implementation.
From the case, it seems that there were no meetings held to review the progress of the execution of the project. The project team did not have any central meetings to discuss general challenges and the impact of delays on the schedule of the project. In conclusion, the two positive experiences that the stakeholders went through during the life of the project were the joint effort to develop the work breakdown structure before the commencement of the project, and a memorable launch.
The next set of experiences was less pleasant. Each contractor seemed to work alone. Problems on some elements of the project undermined the work in other elements. There were no meetings to review progress at regular intervals. This led to the accumulation of problems that eventually ground the project to a halt.
Reflecting on the Experience
Project management is a phased approach towards the delivery of agreed upon objectives. The main elements of a project include project integration management, project scope management, and time management. It also includes cost and quality management, human resource management, and communications management. Finally, project management includes risk and procurement management.
Chung failed to carry out complete project integration management. She had a very strong emphasis on some of elements of the project integration management to the exclusion of others. She did not succeed in making strong monitoring plans resulting in disjointed efforts. Chung’s performance shows that she had a strong bias towards relationship management, which was not sufficient for the delivery of a technical project.
The development of the scope of the project also had a few insufficiencies. The scope failed to cover integration of the new system with the other divisions of the company. From the case, it seems that the project concentrated on how to develop a solution meeting the division’s needs only. It did not pay sufficient attention to the needs of the other divisions.
Time management was also a problem with this project. As at the time of this review, the project was already two months behind schedule. While all the contractors participated in the development of a work breakdown structure, there was insufficient attention paid to the time required to complete the tasks.
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Costs were prepared in advance, but the management of costs was weak. Costs are a factor of time and scope management. Therefore, since the management of these two areas had problems, cost management must have collapsed.
Quality management was inconsistent. The inception of the project was very well organized. It met the quality requirements for these processes. However, the delivery of the actual software, and the management of the processes during the active life of the project was poor. The quality criterion for any project includes the delivery of the intended results. This project failed to deliver results on time and on budget.
The human resource element was one of the worst managed elements of the project. The fact that the project manager only overheard complaints or failed to find solutions to problems pragmatically all show that the human resource management of the project was below par.
An aspect related the human resource management is communication management. The management of the communication within the project was very poor. The project manager did not institute proper procedures for information management and information sharing. The result is that it was not possible to understand the complete scale of issues that were affecting the project.
The current state of the project suggests that risk management within the project was poor. If proper risk analysis took place, the issue of software compatibility would have surfaced. In addition, it would be possible to look at ways of ensuring that the risks associated with the schedule would not arise.
On procurement management, it is difficult to say that there were any specific problems before finding out whether the nature of software developed so far is in line with the needs of the division. One of the contractors revealed that the issues he was dealing with were more serious that compatibility. Can this mean the contractor was not qualified for the work? Can it also explain the delays on the delivery of some of the project components?
Development of Generalization and Abstraction from the Experience
This experience shows clearly that a project can fail despite a strong start. It also shows that good morale is not sufficient to ensure that a project is successful. It is desirable to start a project with high spirits, but it takes proper planning and good project management skills to deliver the project on time and within the budget. The following are some issues, which can help in ensuring that this project delivers the intended outcomes.
First, this project can benefit from better project planning. The reflection points out that there were fundamental weaknesses in the planning of the project. This may have resulted from using project-planning models meant for smaller projects on a big project. It is clear that Chung underestimated the project management needs of this project.
All projects are different. They demand different approaches in order to ensure that they are successful. The planning part of a project is as important as the execution. Planning in any sphere makes it possible to have an efficient deployment of resources to guarantee success. Project execution that does not arise from planning results in chaos, regardless of the intentions of the participants.
The second aspect that arises from the project under review is that there is need to invest in good management structures. Good planning alone cannot guarantee the delivery of intended project outcomes. Good management is an essential part of the project.
A large project usually requires a team to handle the daily management demands. Smaller projects may survive with a single manager working with various people. The project reviewed not only involved several contractors, it also involved several divisions. It is clear that the best way to manage it was to have a dedicated project management team to deal with the emerging issues.
The third issue that was unclear in this project was the development of the work break down structure. The case shows that the contractors participated in the development of the work breakdown structure. However, the final position of the project reveals that the contractors did not all manage to keep to the demands of this work breakdown structure.
From an analytical point, the process of development and implementation of a work breakdown structure requires careful management. A project management committee supervises the achievement of project milestones based on the work breakdown structure. The milestones for this project are unclear. If enough effort went into organizing the project into phases in order to indentify milestones, the results may have been different. In conclusion, the work breakdown structure failed to achieve the intended results for the project.
The final aspect in the analysis of the issues raised in the case study is that there was very poor communication within the project team members. The two instances where Chung receives information about difficult contractors are ineffective ways to receiving information.
In the first case, a task force member reported to her that the software under implantation would not be compatible with the software in Houston. She responds by asking the task force member to stress to the contractor need to have compatible software. In the next situation, she overheard the consultant badmouthing one contractor.
This can only mean that there was no proper way for all the parties to report the difficulties they faced in the project. Communication is very essential in any project. It is imperative for all project team members to receive timely and adequate information at all times. This ensures that issues receive attention before they evolve into bigger problems.
Handling issues in small bits is also an excellent risk management strategy. As soon as a risk trigger is noted, the management committee needs to meet and decide on the appropriate action. In some cases, the interventions already exist in the risk management plan. In this case, the relevant person implements the appropriate risk management action.
Testing of Generalizations by New Actions
The present situation in the project demands the development of specific actions that can result in the successful implementation of the project despite the bottlenecks. The following initiatives can help to ensure that this project succeeds.
First, Chung needs to invite all project stakeholders to a seminar intended for project status review. The currently scheduled meeting cannot act the review seminar because most of the time in it will go towards indentifying the sources of delay. It is likely to be acrimonious. The proposed review meeting should allow all the contractors to report on their progress in order to determine gaps.
In addition, it should provide a forum for all the participants to review their participation. If any of the contractors wants to pull out, this is the best avenue for them to make that intention known. In addition, the review seminar should provide Chung with the opportunity to decide on the structure of an effective project management committee.
The next issue that needs action is the establishment of a dedicated project management committee. The committee should provide all the stakeholders with adequate information relating to the progress of the project from this point forward.
The typical members of the project management committee should be the representatives of the contractors, the department heads in the division directly involved with the accounting software project, and the project manager. The project management committee should have regular meetings and should monitor the delivery of milestones from this point forward. The committee will also enable Chung to receive information in a manner that she can take effective action.
The third issue required to make this project successful is a clarification of the deliverables of the project. Currently, contractors seem to be working based on their own assessment of the needs of the project.
In order to enforce the contracts, Chung needs the help of a project committee to evaluate whether each contractor is working towards the correct deliverables. In this sense, the current targets as outlined in the contracts should form the basis of identifying the deliverables for the project. In addition, the fresh sets of deliverables should take into account the work already done.
The fourth issue that requires attention to make the project a success is the development of a new work breakdown structure. The need for a new work breakdown structure comes from the realization that some work is already complete. In addition, the management committee may reorganize the deliverables of the project to take into account apparent deficiencies in the current plans.
The effect of developing a new work breakdown structure will be to provide a new impetus for the project. The new work breakdown structure will also necessitate the identification of a new deadline for the project. The work breakdown structure is the basic unit of work in a project. Any changes on it affect all the other elements of the project.
The final aspect that must change for the project to succeed is the management of communication in the project. It seems that there was no communication plan for the project.
This explains why the reporting of problems poorly coordinated. Communication in a project is not just for reporting problems. It is also important for reporting progress in order to keep the morale of all stakeholders at a high point. Chung needs to develop a communication plan to ensure that the project management committee meets all the communication needs of all stakeholders.
In conclusion, while the project is in a bad shape now, it is possible to salvage it and to make it work. The identification of the potential ways of dealing with the issues is the result of a reflective exercise using Kolb’s cycle.
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